Updated: Jun 11, 2021
What’s the difference between chemical and physical/mineral UV filters and which one is best for you?
When people think about facial sunscreen, they usually think of a thick, white, greasy paste, which immediately turns them off. We know applying sunscreen daily is extremely important, so how can we make the experience feel less like a chore and more enjoyable?
First, let’s briefly discuss the different UV rays that affect our skin. There are two types of UV rays that we have to worry about: UVB rays burn your skin and cause conditions like skin cancer, and UVA rays are associated with aging, wrinkles, dark spots, etc.
UVA = Aging
UVB = Burning
UVA rays have longer wavelengths that can even penetrate your skin through windows while you’re inside. These rays can penetrate through the epidermis and down to the dermis layer of the skin, breaking down collagen, and ultimately cause aging.
In order to assure you have protection from UVA rays, you should look for the “PA” system on chemical sunscreens and the words UVA/UVB “Broad Spectrum” on mineral sunscreens.
Chemical vs Physical UV Filters
Next, you need to figure out which type of sunscreen you want to try. There are two types of sunscreens with different filters to protect your skin from UV rays: Chemical sunscreens and Physical/Mineral sunscreens.
Chemical Sunscreen filters:
The safety of chemical sunscreens has always been a hot topic because of the chemicals used, how they absorb into the body, and the irritations they can cause. There are an abundant amount of studies that have been done and are currently being done, but nothing is exactly set in stone whether chemical sunscreens are actually harmful. The effectiveness of these filters is also controversial because of how thin the texture is. The main reason you may want to choose a chemical filter is because of the lightweight texture and zero white cast.
When people usually think of the thick, greasy, white sunscreen, they’re thinking of mineral filters. On the bright side, there have been so many advancements in the texture of mineral sunscreens and there are ones out there that have minimal white cast and thinner consistencies.
When looking for a mineral sunscreen, you should always make sure it’s either a zinc oxide filter mixed with titanium dioxide or just zinc oxide. The reason being is that zinc oxide blocks UVA rays better than just titanium dioxide alone. Mineral sunscreens are better for sensitive skin because the filters are less likely to cause irritation and/or sting your eyes.
There are also a ton of sunscreens out there that use a mixture of both mineral and chemical filters in order to get full protection from UVA and UVB rays.
Both chemical and mineral sunscreens have controversy surrounding them about their impact on ocean life and coral reefs. Some say that you can find “non-nano zinc” sunscreens that don’t contain smaller, broken-down particles of zinc oxide. The only downside of this is that you’re more likely to have a white cast because the reason the zinc particles are broken down, to begin with, is to have less of a white cast.
At the end of the day, the best sunscreen is the one you actually use and enjoy applying (and reapplying) every day. Remember, a little does NOT go a long way in terms of sunscreens, use the two to three finger rule (¼ teaspoon) to measure out enough SPF for your face and neck.